Nita Sahai

University of Akron, Goodyear Polymer Bldg, Rm. 636

B.Sc., St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University, 1990
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1997
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Arizona State University, 1997-1998
NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland College Park, 1998-2000

Research Interests: 

Dr. Nita Sahai’s research focuses on the physical-chemical aspects of biomolecular and inorganic ion interactions at mineral surfaces in processes relevant to (a) the origins and early evolution of life; and (b) mineral nucleation and growth in biomineralization. The appearance of life around four billion years ago was a result of a series of geochemical events involving the interaction of a primitive atmosphere, water and minerals with simple molecules leading to the formation of biopolymers, such as lipids, nucleic acids and peptides, which are the building blocks of life. The focus of Dr. Sahai’s research group in the origins of life area is to discover the potential role of minerals in the synthesis and self-assembly of these essential biomolecular components into protocells. While the involvement of minerals in prebiotic chemistry has been proposed for decades, few experimental studies exist with any mechanistic understanding of the underlying mineral structure and reactivity. We are examining the roles of minerals in (i) the formation of model protocell lipid membranes, (ii) promoting the polymerization of ribonucleic acid (RNA) monomers, and (iii) acting as “prebiotic enzymes” by catalyzing transmembrane redox reactions in the development of a model protometabolism. Beyond the role of minerals in any one of these processes, we are exploring the potential for the synergistic coevolution of minerals, lipids, RNA oligomers and peptides leading to the emergence of protocells. A motivating vision of the Sahai group is to use our knowledge of mineral structure and reactivity to identify mechanistic structure-activity relationships in order to predict whether a protocell may emerge on a rocky planet or moon.

Selected publications: 

Dalai, P. & Sahai, N. “Protocell emergence and evolution.” In Handbook of Astrobiology, ed. Vera Kolb., 2018. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL., Chapter 7.1.

Sahai, N., Kaddour, H., Dalai, P., Wang, Z., Bass, G. & Gao M. “Mineral surface chemistry and nanoparticle-aggregation control membrane self-assembly.” Sci. Rep. 2017, 7, 43418. doi: 10.1038/srep43418.

Sahai, N., Kaddour, H. & Dalai, P. (2016) “The transition from geochemistry to biogeochemistry.” Elements 2016, 12, 389-394. Thematic issue on the Origins of Life.

Dalai, P., Kaddour, H. & Sahai, N. “Incubating Life: Prebiotic sources of organics for the chemical origins of life.“ Elements 2016, 12, 401-406. Thematic issue on the Origins of Life.

Kaddour H. & Sahai N. “Synergism and mutualism in nonenzymatic polymerization of RNA.” Life 2014, 4, 598-620.

Greiner, E., Kumar, K., Sumit, M., Giuffre, A., Zhao, W., Pedersen, J. & Sahai N. Adsorption of L-glutamate and L-aspartate from solution to -Al2O3. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 2014, 133, 142-155.

Xu, J., Sahai, N., Eggleston, C. M. & Schoonen, M. A. A. “Reactive oxygen species at the oxide/water interface: Formation mechanisms and implications for prebiotic chemistry and the origin of life.” Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett. 2013, 363, 156-167.

Xu, J., Campbell, J., Zhang, N., Hickey, W. J. & Sahai N. “Evolution of bacterial biofilms as armor against mineral toxicity.” Astrobiology 2012, 12, 785-798.

Cleaves, H. J. III, Scott, A. M., Hill, F. C., Leszczynsky, J., Sahai, N. & Hazen, R. Mineral-organic interfacial processes: potential roles in the origin of life. Chem. Soc. Rev. 2012, 41, 5365-5568.

Oleson, T. A. & Sahai N. “Interaction energies between oxide surfaces and multiple phosphatidylcholine bilayers from extended DLVO-theory. “J. Colloid. Interf. Sci. 2010, 352, 316-326.

Oleson, T. A., Sahai, N. & Pedersen, J. A. “Electrostatic effects on deposition of multiple phospholipid bilayers at oxide surfaces.” J. Colloid. Interf. Sci. 2010, 352, 327-336.

Xu, J., Stevens, M. J., Oleson, T. A., Last, J. A. & Sahai N.(2009) “Role of oxide surface chemistry and phospholipid phase on adsorption and self-assembly: isotherms and atomic force microscopy.” J. Phys. Chem. C 2009, 113, 2187-2196. Special issue on Physical Chemistry of Environmental Interfaces.